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Rhode Island’s Air Quality Improved, Yet Providence Remains the Most Polluted County in its Metro Area

Despite continued improvement in air quality, local residents remain at risk from health effects of unhealthy air, according to new report from the American Lung Association

(April 20, 2016) -

PROVIDENCE, RI –The American Lung Association’s 2016 “State of the Air” report found that while air quality in Rhode Island and the country has improved, far too many residents are being exposed to unhealthy air.  Providence County was found to be the most polluted county in the Boston-Worcester-Providence metro area. Kent, Providence and Washington counties all received F’s for high ozone days in the 2016 report. This is in spite of the trend seen across the nation of reducing ozone pollution. 

“The 2016 ‘State of the Air’ report finds unhealthful levels of ozone in parts of Rhode Island, putting Ocean State residents at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and cardiovascular harm,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.  “In fact, Rhode Island has over 900,000 residents that are considered to be at-risk for lung health issues.  Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but more than half of the people in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution.”

Each year the “State of the Air” reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution and particle pollution. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can be lethal. But the trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected in 2012-2014, are strikingly different for these pollutants nationwide, and also in Rhode Island.

Ozone Pollution in Rhode Island
Providence and Washington Counties received F grades for high ozone days. “Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Seyler. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room.”

Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, according to research, climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up.

Particle Pollution in Rhode Island
The 2016 report also found year-round particle pollution (soot) levels in 2012-2014 were similar to the 2015 report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.  No county in Rhode received a failing grade for year-round particle pollution. Washington County had incomplete data to report a grade for year-round particle pollution.

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Seyler. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”

The 2016 report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2016 report, Kent County did not see any spikes in short-term particle pollution days that reached unhealthy levels in 2012-2014, giving it a grade of an A. Providence County received a B for short-term particle pollution. This is in keeping with the trend of reducing short-term particle pollution across the nation.

“If we can do more to save lives—we should, and we can,” Jason Carosi, Chairman of the American Lung Association of the Northeast’s Leadership Board in Rhode Island. “The Lung Association call on Rhode Island leaders to adopt a strong Clean Power Plan to reduce harmful emissions from power plants that worsen climate change and immediately harm health.”

Learn more about Rhode Island’s rankings, as well as air quality across the state and the nation in the 2016 “State of the Air” report at For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact Ebony Walmsley, Communications Associate for the American Lung Association of the Northeast at [email protected] or 860-838-4374.

Significant findings from the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2016 report for Rhode Island include:

• Ozone grade was an F.
• Short-term particle pollution grade remained an A. Annual particle pollution level improved slightly.
• Ozone grade remained an F. Short-term particle pollution was a  B.
• Annual level of particle pollution level improved slightly.

• Ozone grade remained an F. There was insufficient data for annual particle pollution.

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